Matt Hendricks keeps Washington Capitals locker room loose

Matt Hendricks, left, and the Capitals are unbeaten in regulation in their past nine games.
Matt Hendricks, left, and the Capitals are unbeaten in regulation in their past nine games. (Greg Fiume/getty Images)
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By Tracee Hamilton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 19, 2010; 12:44 AM

When a team is down, you hear a lot of talk about whether the coach is "losing the locker room," like it suddenly vanished at Hogwarts. When a team is up, you hear a lot of talk about locker room chemistry. (And when a team is completely off the rails, you hear a lot of talk about shoe defecation and guns, I guess. Or perhaps that's just our luck here in the nation's capital.)

The Capitals are up, on a 8-0-1 run, hurtling toward what should be another very successful regular season. As a result, their locker room is loose. Very loose. And there are no surprises lurking in their skates.

Of course, it's easy to be loose if you haven't lost in regulation in your past nine games. For those other times, when the losing streaks and injuries come, you need to look elsewhere for looseness. Enter forward Matt Hendricks, who along with Matt Bradley is credited with, let's say, livening up the Capitals' locker room.

Like most Caps, Brooks Laich chuckles when you mention Hendricks's name. What's up with that?

"Because he's such a good guy," Laich said. "He's a character guy and he's been a great shot of energy to our hockey team. He was out in the West, nobody really knew much about him until this year. He'd played for [Coach] Bruce [Boudreau] but not a lot of us players had seen much of him. He's come in and done a fantastic job. He's a physical guy, he'll fight, he's scoring a little bit, he lays the body every night, he's a fun guy in the locker room. I think he's been a fantastic addition and we hope it continues."

Hendricks played in Colorado the past two seasons, but was looking for a job this summer. Boudreau remembered Hendricks fondly from his 2006-07 season with the Hershey Bears and invited him for a tryout. Making the Caps' roster, with its plethora of first-round draft picks and young talent, wasn't easy for a 29-year-old journeyman who'd lost his job.

"My grit helped out a lot," said Hendricks, who has three goals and three assists in 18 games. "Being able to be very vocal in the room. . . . I can motivate, I can do things, bring energy to the game. I hope one of the things [Boudreau] sees with me is that I'm not here for myself, there's no personal agenda, I'm here for this team and to win a Stanley Cup and I think they can see that in me and I just hope it happens."

We'll all get a chance to see Hendricks in action off the ice in HBO's "24/7" presentation on the Capitals and Penguins, part of the buildup to the Winter Classic on New Year's Day in Pittsburgh. Both teams agreed to allow unprecedented access to the HBO cameras, before games, between periods, during meetings. Some filming has already been completed and the cameras will be back in Washington on Dec. 5 for more.

Every locker room has its own personality, or lack thereof, but be aware - when you ask a member of the media "What's it like in the [fill in the team's] locker room?," the answer you get is by necessity biased, because there is the locker room reporters see during our visits, and there is the locker room that no one but the players see, and they are not the same. The players know that, and so do the smart reporters.

Of course, the presence of cameras will inevitably alter reality to a degree, because it would be impossible not to, but other than using a "Taxicab Confessions" approach, this is probably as close as all of us will get to seeing the real inner workings and dynamics of the Caps' locker room.

But are those dynamics truly important? Is locker room chemistry just a myth, an excuse or explanation bandied about by members of the media and fans in trying to explain what's going right or wrong?

"It's vital to a hockey team," Laich said. "You guys [in the media] aren't always privileged to see it. There's a reason why Matt Bradley's been here for six years, because he's a great locker room guy. He's good on the ice, you see all his physical abilities, but in the locker room, you need those players.

"Matt Hendricks is cut from the same mold. They're good guys to have around. They're guys if the organization lets go, the players really feel it. They feel, ah geez, I miss that guy, I wish he could still be here. We've added another guy in Hendy and you can never have too many of those guys and their play on the ice speaks as well."

Hendricks won't name names when it comes to discussing which players need an occasional verbal jab, saying only, "If I think they need it, I'll say something." He doesn't anticipate much camera time from HBO but expects the microphones will pick up his voice in the background - a lot. None of the Caps, he says, seems to be altering his behavior for the cameras. And if anyone does, they're sure to hear about it from Hendricks.

"He's quite different than what we've had here before, in a positive way," Boudreau said. "I've seen him and I know all about him but he's a very talkative, vocal guy and very upbeat and a positive influence on everybody and then he goes out and plays real hard to boot. So he backs up what he says, which makes the guys believe everything he says is verbatim, it's true."

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